I decided to take another trip to a National Park for my birthday--this time to Acadia National Park in Maine. I left Portland in the morning, taking the scenic route to Mt. Desert Island. Once I hit Augusta, I hopped off the highway, continuing on Route 3 for a while before eventually turning onto Route 1 near Belfast. I crossed the glorious Penobscot Narrows Bridge and an hour later reached Bar Harbor. Windows wide open the whole journey, I was treated to an invigorating pine aroma. It was a beautiful drive.
Even though I stayed at a hotel just outside the hustle and bustle of town, a bus conveniently ran from the square downtown and dropped off visitors at several nearby hotels. Free from parking and navigating unfamiliar streets, I could enjoy a beverage or two without worry. I got check-in out of the way quickly and ventured into town.
Bar Harbor smells better than any place I have ever visited. In addition to the heady pine, flowers and salt-air greeted me as I made my way down the hilly sidewalk that leads to the harbor. Located on Mt. Desert Island, Bar Harbor looks out onto the expansive Frenchman’s Bay, teeming with wildlife like whales, eagles, cormorants, and dolphins. Cadillac Mountain looms above the town and is the first place to see the sunrise in the US from October to March.
Bar Harbor is a summer town. The population dips considerably as the leaves fall in autumn, with tourists and seasonal workers departing for the winter. It is both a quaint New England treasure and busy fishing village. Many fine restaurants abound, and the locals are happy to keep busy while the sun shines.
I wandered along Main Street, stopping in at a few shops before settling in at the bar at Poor Boy’s Gourmet. I had a fine burger and a brew and chatted with the locals until it was time to find my bus back to the hotel.
Every room in my hotel had a terrace, and while it did not afford a view of the harbor, it was still wonderful to sit out there on a beautiful summer night and enjoy the gentle breeze. I did check out the hotel bar, in another building a bit up the drive, and had a nightcap or two. The lounge featured a pianist who took requests from the crowd. Being that it was the second day of summer, I felt “Summertime” was appropriate. With flourishes and excessive drama, it was not concert style by any means but thoroughly amusing.
Then next morning I wasted little time to ready myself for the day ahead. It was time for breakfast. Research had suggested Two Cats was a promising choice. The lobster and gouda omelet was delicious. It’s a lovely little place with friendly staff. Sated, I was at last ready for the main attraction.
Acadia National Park is located on both Mt. Desert Island and Isle Au Haut. George Dorr was an early booster of the park, and, along with Charles W. Eliot, he encouraged local landowners to donate land and sought state and federal funds for the creation of the first National Park on the East Coast. It is easily accessible by car or bicycle, and a trek around the 27-mile Park Loop Road is a good way to make a quick overview of what to see. Small parking lots can be found along the loop if you want to jump out for a short hike. I started along a coastal path for a spell, easily snapping up memories on my camera of the enchanting views.
I attempted to stop at Jordan Pond House for tea and its famous popovers, but the large crowd waiting to get in dissuaded me. I was still full from breakfast anyway. I’ll go back off-season another time and try again. Instead, I ambled along the Jordan Pond trail. The day was cool and overcast, and as I made my way along the densely forested paths, I was not accosted by mosquitos. The sights were beautiful. The rocky coastline is thick with pine trees and gorgeous views of the ocean.
I needed a nap. That last glass of wine from the night before was taking its toll, so I returned to my hotel for a while. I spread out on my king size bed for a few hours, until I woke up, finally hungry. I drove into town and stopped for a slice at Rosalie’s pizza, a nice local joint with great memorabilia adorning the walls. Refreshed, I went back to the park and hiked a bit more. I visited Sand Beach. Peering through the trees on approach, the beach seems like an anomaly among the rest of the craggy shores of the park, stretching 290 yards. I had the place to myself and sat for a while enjoying the quiet and the lovely view.
As evening approached, I headed back into town for dinner at the Thirsty Whale. The food was excellent, especially after a long day of meandering on the trails. Then it was once again off to the bus and back at the hotel bar for more music and wine.
The next morning I rushed to the harbor for my excursion on the water. The boatloads of tourists were treated to a guided tour of Frenchman’s Bay where we saw all kinds of birds and sea life. Our guide was a local science teacher/naturalist and amateur lobster fisherman. He explained how the traps were checked methodically and passed around a giant lobster claw for us to marvel over. He was funny and informative.
Afterward, I stopped into Galyn’s for some lobster bisque to recharge. Then it was time to explore the mountain. One of the only two places on the East Coast where the mountains meet the sea (the other being Camden Harbor about 80 miles south), Cadillac Mountain is accessible by car or foot and is a must-see for its views of the bay. The weather was still cool, but there was sun at least. The windy summit was still chilly, but it didn’t detract from the breathtaking vista.
After leaving the mountain, I left the park and drove around the island, visiting Northeast Harbor and the Bass Harbor Headlight on the southwestern tip of Mt. Desert Island.
The next morning it was time to go, but not before grabbing some breakfast at Jordan’s. The restaurant was packed, but service was quick, and the food was good. Then it was back on the road to Portland.
My trip to Bar Harbor cemented my love of Maine. It’s a great trip for campers (some campgrounds are dog-friendly) and other adventurers who come by land or sea. It took a few years, but I eventually settled up here. While the winters can be brutal, the natural beauty of the entire state from summer through fall more than makes up for our nor’easters. It is with good reason that our tourist slogan is “Maine, The Way Life Should Be.”
Kristine England is a freelance writer based in Portland, Maine. She is an avid traveler who also enjoys good food, spirits, and conversation. You can read more of her writing at Roaming Abroad Travel
Cover Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Huckleberry Travel has lots of great options for trips to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, including some fabulous autumn color cruises to New England and Canada. If you'd like to experience this part of the country for yourself, just let us know!